Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Rethinking the Origins of 9/11

The initial response of the George W Bush administration was to frame ‘9/11’ as a transformative event that changed everything. Such a stance assumed that 9/11 came out of a clear blue sky. While this diagnosis helped rally a shell-shocked American people, it had significant consequences for US policy in the post-9/11 era. The Bush leadership felt free to declare ‘war on terror’ and emphasise the notion of US primacy in this transnational struggle. Bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ensued and these conflicts cost billions of dollars and were financed largely from borrowing, which, in turn, contributed to the global financial crisis of 2008-9.

But there was nothing inevitable about this outcome. 9/11 was always a symptom rather than a cause of a new global security environment. In fact, the security environment had been radically changing since the end of the Cold War. At first, the US appeared optimistic about forging a new post-Cold War strategy. The crushing military victory of the US-led coalition over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the first Gulf War of 1990-91 seemed to affirm a co-operative security approach. President George H W Bush’s ‘new world order’ declaration in 1991 and President Bill Clinton’s initial support for ‘assertive multilateralism’ pointed to this trend.

But the new world envisaged by both the Bush (senior) and Clinton administrations did not turn out to be quite the order they expected. In many ways, the disastrous US-UN humanitarian intervention in Somalia in 1992-93 was the defining moment for US post-Cold War security policy and the beginning of a road that ultimately led to 9/11. The catalyst was a savage battle in Mogadishu on October 3 1993 between US forces and armed supporters of the warlord General Aideed, which killed 18 US servicemen and more than 1,000 Somalis.

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